pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Mercy and Truth

Reading: Psalm 85

Verse 10: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”.

Psalm 85 continues verse 10 from Hosea 1. There Hosea began to tell of God restoring Israel. In our Psalm today, there is a feeling of hope and expectation, a feeling that God will restore the people and the land. The psalmist petitions God to remove his anger, to show mercy. As the Psalm unfolds, forgiveness is there to be had. It is a beautiful story.

In the opening verses the captivity has been ended and the sins of the people have been forgiven. God’s wrath has been spent. Yet the relationship still is not wholly restored. It is not whole. The psalmist gives a sense that God is still angry. The people have work to do. The psalmist pleads for God to show them mercy, to grant salvation. In verse 9 the Psalm expresses the feeling that “salvation is near”, that glory will dwell in the land.

Coming out of a time in sin, I too have felt this almost restored feeling. I come to realize my sin and the Holy Spirit begins to work in me, guiding me towards confession and repentance. This feels like where the psalmist and Israel are at. God has begun to woo me, to draw me back to walking in the light. The desire of God to be in right relationship with me is an awareness. Once I confess my sin and commit to repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness, the restoration and redemption process begins. In verse 10 the psalmist writes, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”. To me, this sums up the full restoration. Confession and repentance is what I bring, mercy is God’s gift to me. I do not ever deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy, yet I always receive it. God justifies me, making me righteous again. God’s grace comes flooding in as my life resembles Christ’s once again.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Yes, the Lord will give what is good… he will make his footsteps our pathway”. We will walk in the light as he is in the light. There is a confidence in the Psalm that God will grant what is good – mercy and healing and wholeness. We too come to have this same confidence in God. Over and over we are restored and redeemed. Over and over we experience God’s love and mercy. And over and over again, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, thank you for never giving up on me. My imperfections and failings are so far from your grace and mercy and steadfast love. Yet you bring me back, you restore and redeem me again and again – that holy kiss! Thank you God for your love. Amen.


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Joy and Peace

Reading: Romans 5: 1-2

Verse 2b: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”.

In the first part of Romans 5, Paul writes about the peace and joy we find through faith in Jesus Christ. The peace we feel comes because we have been “justified by faith”. To be justified means to be made right with God. This is an ongoing process, one that happens over and over. Paul goes on to explain that it is through Jesus that we find access to the grace necessary in the justification process. It is Jesus’ grace that says his love is greater than our sins.

Because we experience grace, we are forgiven people. Because we are forgiven, we experience a peace that the world does not know. People living outside of a relationship with Jesus struggle with feeling peace in their lives because they do not know grace. The lack of a vertical relationship with God impacts their horizontal relationships with their families, friends, co-workers… The inability to receive and extend grace and mercy and forgiveness limits and hampers their relationships. Peace with others and with self becomes an elusive target. Soon joy is harder to find as well.

As people of faith, we know both joy and peace through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is something that should be and usually is evident in our lives. The peace that passes understanding and the joy in the midst of difficult or challenging situations is something the children of the world notice. When asked what makes us different, when asked have joy or peace in those unlikely times, we must be ready to share our story of faith. It is through our story that we invite others to know Jesus, the source of our joy and peace.

Verse 2 concludes with these words: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”. We have hope in Jesus Christ, the glory of God. We rejoice because we know the end of the story. Whether we are thinking of the end of our own story or of the end of humanity’s story, we know that eternal life awaits all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We rejoice in this truth. Jesus brings us joy and peace in this life and in the life to come. Today may our joy and peace help another to know our truth.

Prayer: Jesus, my savior and my hope, thank you for the joy and peace that comes through knowing you. May these blessings flow out of my life and into the lives of those who need to know your joy and peace. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Exercise

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

At the beginning of Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims Jesus Christ. His words and the miraculous signs lead many to accept the word of God and to believe in Jesus. When people profess faith in Jesus, Philip baptizes them. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about this and realize that the people have not received the Holy Spirit. This is where today’s passage picks up.

Peter and John are sent to Samaria. They pray over the new believers, asking the Spirit to come. “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It is the Spirit that will fill the new believers with the courage and power and understanding to live out their faith as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, belief in Christ is more like head knowledge than lifestyle. There is a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The Holy Spirit bumps Jesus fully into our life and into our everyday choices, words, actions…

Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, these new believers in Samaria will have choices to make. We too experience this. When they feel the nudge or when they hear the whisper – will they respond? At first that voice is quiet and the nudge light. When it is exercised though, it becomes louder and stronger. In this way we too are called to exercise the faith we have – to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we do, the more we will. This day and every day, when the Holy Spirit calls or nudges, may we step forward in faith, trusting in God’s lead. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help me to cast aside fear and doubt and to step boldly where your Spirit leads. Build up my trust more and more and more. Amen.


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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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Receive God’s Grace

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse One: “As fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

When we look at Paul’s hardships listed in verses three through five, one might question taking up a life of faith. Yes, life itself will bring all of these hardships at times, but to choose a life’s journey that almost invites these seems like a tough choice to make. To be a Christian in today’s world is not an easy task. Our culture is not very well aligned to Christian values any longer.

As one moves on to verses four through six, it gets a little better but there are still undesirables on that list. In these verses Paul begins to paint the picture that this difficult journey is worth it. The Christian Life is a life of genuine love and fellowship, of eternal hope and real joy. Yet the world and our culture will say one can find love and joy and happiness without walking the narrow way of faith. Culture says there is an easier way.

All one has to do to find love and joy and happiness is to work a little harder and to be willing to take advantage or exploit another on occasion. Yes, a day of rest and time with God and family might be fun, but it will cost you. Come on, lots of people work on Sunday. You might miss a ball game or recital here and there or a birthday if the potential payoff is big. Don’t worry – there will be other events that you will be at. These are the lies of the world. These are the ways that we convince ourselves that it is okay to work on Sundays and evenings.

Paul opens today’s passage asking the Corinthians and us to “not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Receive it and allow it to change you. Receive it and pass it on to others. Receive it and gain a sense of hope that the world cannot give. Allow God to bring you hope in times of sorrow, peace in times of stress, joy in times of despair, and love in times of hate and anger. Receive God’s grace and allow it to open your heart wide. Walk the narrow and hard road of faith and find life. Amen and amen.


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Central Command

Reading: 1st John 3: 18-24

Verse 23: “This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another”.

We are reminded many times in 1st John that we are “children” of God. In calling followers of Jesus children of God, John is establishing a certain relationship. As children of God we have a father who loves us and cares for us. God is a father that wants the absolute best for His children. God is an understanding father that accepts us as we are yet always wants to see more out of us as we grow to become more and more like His Son, Jesus.

Like we are with our earthly fathers, we too want to please God our heavenly father. John echoes this as he writes, “we obey His commands and do what pleases Him”. The result is also the same as it is with our earthly fathers as we “receive from Him anything we ask”. My dad would have given me anything I wanted on two conditions: if he could and if it was good for me. Our heavenly father does not deal with the first limitation but does give in accordance with what is best for us.

John identifies a central command in today’s passage: “This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another”. The first part is to believe in Jesus Christ. To do so we first confess Jesus as the Lord of our life and we accept Him as our Savior. In belief we receive the Holy Spirit, which dwells in us and leads and guides us to be ever more like Jesus. The second part of the command flows out of this first part. As we grow to be more and more like Jesus, we naturally do more and more of what He did. Jesus’ key action was to love others. This too is our command: love one another.

Both parts of this command are challenging at times. Our inner self seeks to be in control as the desires of the flesh rise up from time to time. At other times we find it hard to love one another as Satan works to separate us from His love by deceiving us and by telling us lies. Yet even the powerful allies of self and Satan cannot ever fully overcome the love of Jesus Christ that is in us. This love is always in us. John writes, “this is how we know… by the Spirit He gave us”. The Holy Spirit is also always at work, countering the desires of self and the work of Satan, always reminding us that we belong to Jesus and that we are a dearly beloved child of God. Thanks be to God for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. May the Spirit ever lead and guide us. Amen.


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Our Prayer Life

Who or what do you most often pray for?  At this point, who or what is your main prayer focus?  Are these things constants or do they change?  If these answers do not come pretty quickly, consider how you could develop a deeper, more consistant, more meaningful prayer life.  If your prayers seem to focus on just a few people or items, please consider for a few minutes the people in your life and the situations in your world that would benefit greatly from being lifted up in your prayers.

One of the most powerful ways that we can pray for another is to invite the presence of the Holy Spirit into their lives.  In Acts 8 the people of Samaria have been baptized.  John and Peter go to them and pray over them and invite the Holy Spirit into the lives of these new believers.  The Samaritans receive the Spirit as a result of these prayers.  Just like the people that John and Peter prayed for, those that we pray for can be opened up to the presence of the Spirit.  They must still receive this gift, but our prayers can begin this process.

When we go deep in prayer, we are also inviting the Holy Spirit to be present with us.  When we invest time and energy into our prayer life, it is like any other practice or relationship – it grows.  And if we allow space and invite God to be present, the connection we have can reach new levels and can impact us powerfully.

In closing, let us return to the second question.  There are people and situations that I pray for daily. This is a good thing.  But in our prayer lives we must also have a few people or items that we focus on for a time or a season.  To do so we must be sensitive and seeking.  If we do this, God and the Holy Spirit will lay these prayer focuses upon us.  Then we have the holy and awesome privelege of lifting another person or situation up in intense and focused prayer.  Blessings on your prayer life this day!

Scripture reference: Acts 8: 14-17